Fear of intimacy is what’s known as a social phobia, a fear of being around people, but it’s a particular form of it: a person with fear of intimacy feels anxiety about having an intimate personal relationship, or fears a close relationship with another person.
So fear of intimacy is basically fear of being emotionally close to another person, with the fear of being physically close often mixed in as well. (Scientifically, for what it’s worth, it’s defined as ”the inhibited ability of a man or woman, because of anxiety, to reciprocate feelings of personal significance with another man or woman who is highly appreciated or valued”.)
Fear of intimacy is often caused by past traumas, including sexual, emotional or physical abuse. As a result, fear of intimacy is also often associated with a fear of being touched.
Men and women with the fear of intimacy are – obviously – anxious or afraid of intimate relationships. They may believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that they do not deserve love or emotional support from other people. The three defining features of this type of fear or phobia (a word which just means a very intense fear) are:
- a lowered willingness to communicate personal information,
- uncertainty about feelings when personal information is exchanged,
- a sense of vulnerability around the person with whom intimacy might be possible.
Emotionally confident and secure individuals feel themselves to be lovable and worthy, and feel more or less comfortable with intimacy - and indeed with being alone, too. By contrast, men and women with a fear of intimacy lack some of the sense of self-worth which would allow them to seek out connection with others; they may, however, see other people very positively and want their love and acceptance. They somehow can’t accept it, though. And a man or woman who is fearful around people may lack a sense of their own ”lovability”; as a result they might tend to avoid others because they fear rejection. Trust is, unsurrisingly, a big issue for people who fear intimacy.
If you have a fear of intimacy, you may well also have little confidence about the dependability of other people and a high level of fear about abandonment. It’s also common for fear of intimacy to be accompanied by a sense of discomfort with closeness.
Fear of Intimacy And Relationships
One study found that women with depression have much more obvious fear of intimacy, and interestingly, that the intensity of a woman’s fear of intimacy is a reliable indicator of the longevity of a couple’s relationship: in other words, the more intense a woman’s fear of intimacy, the shorter, on average, a couple’s relationship. This is probably the best reason of all to deal with your fear of intimacy (and there’s no reason to think that men are any different in this respect).
Another study showed that peple who fear intimacy generally think there is less intimacy in their dating relationships than their partner – it’s almost as if they can’t face the idea of being intimate. Sadly, well-meaning but fearful parents can have a massive impact on our confidence as adults: people who, as children, are taught not to trust strangers always almost always have a greater fear of intimacy and report feeling more lonely in adulthood than people who were not taught to distrust strangers when they were young.
Child abuse is a major factor in the development of fear of intimacy – and that’s true for all kinds of abuse during childhood. When people who were abused as children grow up, they tend to be anxious about allowing others to see them as they really are, and have a lot of fear about being revictimized if they trust others (which is, of course, what happened when they were growing up). As a result, intimacy can feel very frightening, because to feel close to another person reminds a woman or man that trusting someone may lead to ”being taken advantage of”.